ExecutiveSummary In this essay, we will talk about participatory democracy.First of all, we will focus on the different origins of participatorygovernance as well as the protest movements that have grown in recent years andexpress the will of people to change the face of the current policies that arelosing some field.We will then deal with the theoretical offer ofparticipatory democracy and its real impact on the population. On the basis oftwo articles dealing with this theme, we will see that the active participationof the people in the political debate is defined by different characteristicssuch as real knowledge of the people about participatory democracy and politicsin general, the perception (positive or negative) of this topic, thesocio-demographic profile of the responder or the way in which the opportunityis offered to participate in an exercise of participatory democracy.Finally, we conclude by saying that participatorydemocracy is an interesting alternative to classical democracy (although italso has its limits) and that the population (or a part of it) is ready toparticipate under certain conditions. .
IntroductionToday, all Western democracies are run by representativegovernments where voters vote to delegate power to political leaders. However,it has not always been like this. Indeed, many works by historians andethnologists on the origins of democracy show that unanimous decision-making orconsensus has been the preeminent mode of collective decision-making duringalmost the whole history of human societies.For example, the Navacho Indians do not know thenotion of representative government. Their heritage and oral traditions haveled them to continue to make their decisions in community and to stop them onlywhen unanimity has been gathered. The same was true for the village communitiesof black Africa or for the medieval Germanic populations. In short, the voteremains relatively new from a historical point of view. Moreover, recent events show that contemporary societyhas a feeling of mistrust and a lack of interest in the political issue and atthe same time seems to be promoting a return of the latter to the center ofpublic debate.
Whether they are the Indignados Spaniards, Occupy Wall Street orthe movement “Nuit Debout”, all invite to re-capture the publicsquares in order to materialize their rejection of the rulers – they considerillegitimate – and to recreate a citizen dialogue. If it seems to have the wind in its sails, thedemocratic deliberative system is still unknown to the general public. Ingeneral, investigations have shown that people involved in protest movementsare more likely to promote this system.
A study done by Harvard Universityattempts to qualify the theoretical demand for deliberative democracy and thepropensity to engage in it in a practical way.In line with this survey, we will attempt during this essayto draw – critically – the link between the hypothetical interest that peoplecan have in deliberative governance and the real effects it haves in apractical way. Question,methodology and sources For a number of years, the traditional system ofrepresentative democracy has faltered. Indeed, citizens are turning away fromthe public life of the city. This has resulted in a steep drop in the number ofpolitical party members in Europe. This declining trend applies to the entireEuropean continent.
Alternatives to the traditional system are numerous and, asan example, we cite above the recent movements of Indignés but we could alsomention the G1000, in Belgium, or the collective “Tout autre chose”. Thesedifferent social initiatives of citizen initiative intend to “democratizedemocracy”. It is to serve this purpose that they advocate the systematicuse of debate and consultation.The starting point of this work is an article entitled”Can participatory democracyconvince people to participate ?” This hypothesis raises the followingquestion: “Is the population really ready to participate more actively indemocratic life? “.Our research question will focuses on the opinion ofindividuals with regard to deliberative democracy as well as theirconfrontation with a concrete offer of participation. Thanks Harvard KennedySchool and its study called “Who wantsto deliberate – and why?” it will be possible to highlight thesignificant gap between individuals who are in favor of participatorydemocracy, theoretically, and those who are willing to take part in a realproposal for participation. The main assumption here is that among the individualspresented as being in favor of this type of decision-making (participativedemocracy), the majority of them will be likely to refuse a concrete proposalfor deliberation.Based on the previously cited articles, the objectiveof this essay will be to try to find out more precisely why some people do notprefer to take part of this new type of initiative.
Is the concept ofparticipative governance not mature enough ? Are people really aware of what isparticipative democracy ? Are people really ready to take part of something ofthis magnitude ? Here are some questions we will try to answer on the followingpages.ContentThe rise of forms of participatory and deliberativedemocracy has provoked the revival of a more than pertinent question: is thepopulation really ready to participate more actively in democratic life ? The first thing to precise is to say that it exists twodifferent points of view in the literature. While most of people could thinkthat there is a need from the population for more deliberative/participativeprocess, some studies are at the opposite, trying to assert that people do notneed this kind of process. The first study shows us that in reality,individuals would prefer a model of democracy in which the citizen can stayaway from public affairs, because of the virtuous and responsible nature ofdecision-makers. This type of democracy has been defined as “stealthdemocracy” by John Hibbing and Elisabeth Theiss-Morse (2002). A”good” democratic system would therefore be a system that does notexcessively solicit public participation. The authors support their reflectionby saying that right now, the population aspires to intervene only in case ofserious system failure, and tolerates little more than a few marginal directvoting devices.
On the other way, the second study conducted by ShaunBowler, Todd Donovan and Jeffrey Karp (2007) is focused on obtaining a set ofcorrelations to understand the need for this new type of policy. The results ofthis survey are twofold. First of all, there is a distinction between thedesire to have more opportunities for participation and the real desire toparticipate in a referendum. It seems that citizens wanting more opportunitiesare those who are the most active and confident in the current politicalsystem. The latter would consider more than others to take part in a directvote.
Even though citizens seem to be demanding moreopportunities to express an opinion, there is nothing to confirm that thisdesire is reflected in concrete political commitment. Indeed, the main concernof citizens is to “watch” the abuses of the government more than areal desire to overturn decision-making. In fact, the population supports theuse of referendums not because of the attraction of the device, but because ofits mistrust of political elites.It has been found that in order to really generate arequest for participation, the offer must appear to be serious. More than ahypothetical referendum, interviewees must be confronted with a concrete andoperational offer of deliberation. Then, and only then, will it be possible to”measure” their willingness to participate, since it is only whencitizens have the evidence that leaders intend to strengthen democracy, thatthey wish to participate more actively: the more they trust, the more they wantto participate.It is also interesting to analyze people’s knowledgeand perception of participatory democracy. On the basis of an opinion pollconducted in France, two central questions were asked: “Are the populationaware of these devices? And “How is this offer of participation perceivedby those who know it? “The answers thus make it possible to distinguish threedistinct profiles of individuals, who differ in their relation to the offer ofparticipation:- The first profile can be assimilated to the citizendescribed by the theory of stealth democracy (discreet democracy): Individualswith this profile perceive the offer of participation as a manipulation, andhave an exclusively negative opinion.
– The second profile: individuals perceive the settingup of devices as a progress, an exclusively positive phenomenon. This is whatwe will call the deliberative profile.- The third profile gathers all the individuals havingno specific opinion. It mixes negative and positive responses. This is what wewill call the hesitant profile.
The answers gathered for the first question show thatparticipatory democracy is known by 48% of respondents, which shows a certainpopularity of the term even if the majority of respondents (52%) still declaretheir lack of knowledge. However, only 8% of individuals connect this knowledgeto an existing device. The analysis of the content of the answers pushes torelativize a little more this knowledge of the offer of participation. Indeed,among the individuals claiming to know participatory democracy approaches, 33%of them do not actually mention any device or cite non-institutionalexperiences. The overall trend revealed by the survey remains indisputable:only 17% of individuals who know participatory democracy can accuratelyidentify one or more effective participatory approaches.
Then, on the question of the sociological profile of”experts”, the results reveal that the most “aware” publicsof the existence of an offer of participation are among the most affluent andmost educated categories. In other words, the higher the political knowledge,the more individuals are able to cite specific experiences of participatorydemocracy. In other words, participative democracy is essentially known by themore “privileged” individuals that have material resources,availabilities or substantial qualifications. The knowledge of participatorydemocracy is therefore stronger among individuals with prior knowledge of thepolitical game and thus favorable social conditions.This hypothesis is reinforced by the words of AnnickPercheron.
In fact, according to the sociologist, political innovation isfavorably perceived by “groups with a high socio-professional status, witha high degree of diploma, with a high level of education and interest inpolitics” (Percheron 1991, p.401). ). The most attentive individuals topolitical innovations would therefore be the most sensitive to participatorydemocracy. Finally, participatory democracy is essentially approved by anaudience already strongly committed to representative democracy: activists andattentive spectators of the political game with a good knowledge of thesemechanisms. The overrepresentation of certain categories of participants,already heavily involved in politics, is a recurring finding in the analyzes ofparticipatory devicesThe conclusion of this survey thus leads to theconclusion that the individuals surveyed are still very largely unaware of thevery existence of the participatory mechanisms and, among the initiates, thereis still doubt about the political meaning of participative democracy. Even ifsignificant proportions of this public of experts consider it favorably, theresults lead to think that the participative democracy interests only a publicalready attentive to the political stakes and which is however never fullyacquired to him. This weak demand can hardly be interpreted as the global signof widespread political apathy.
However, with regard to active participationschemes, the recognition of a limited social demand is a warning against thecapacity to “provoke” participation.Finally, it is also interesting to focus on theresults obtained by researchers at Harvard University. The latter focused ontesting the impact of an offer of participation made to citizens. Two types ofoffer are then tested: a real offer and an imaginary offer. Their results aredouble.
Regarding the imaginary offer, a large majority of respondents (83%)express the wish to participate. Regarding the actual offer, 75% of individualsaccept the invitation and 35% of these volunteers actually show up on the dayindicated. Although these proportions are described as significant byresearchers, it is important to highlight the significant gap between thetheoretical interest and the actual implementation of the offer.Surprisingly, an interesting result here is thatpeople in the group of the stealth democracy have a large significant andpositive effect on the willingness to participate whereas we rather expect thereverse given their negative judgment on the subject.Analysis,comparison, conclusion and limits First, it is important to emphasize that the analysisof such studies is rather complicated. Indeed, the latter are complex and arebased on multiple factors, some of which are not present in our writing inorder to be more clear and concise.Following the analysis, different lessons can belearned. First, it appears that two theories are opposed on the subject: thefirst on is telling us that the population is not in need for such types ofproject.
On the basis of the research question, it was therefore notinteresting to dig deeper into this point of view knowing that it was exactlythe opposite opinion that interested us.Then, before even considering whether or not peopleare willing to participate, it was interesting to discover that a very largemajority of respondents did not know what participative democracy was. Thoseclaiming to know what it is, however, were not necessarily able to identify amechanism relative to participative democracy. Based on this observation, wecan already say that it would be more than relevant to raise awareness of thiskind of mechanisms and make them more popular so that everyone has an exactknowledge of what it is. This could have a positive effect on people’s desirefor participation. Among the individuals who identify participatorydemocracy, three types of profiles have emerged.
Those with a favorable opinionof this kind of initiative, those with a negative opinion (stealth democracy)and finally those with a mixed opinion. Among the group with a positiveopinion, it is important to emphasize that most of them are part of a socialclass with high intellectual skills and belonging to a rather privileged socialclass. Furthermore, the results obtained on the question “Why people did notwant to participate in the exercise shows us that the main reasons (42%) isbecause people think they do not know enough to participate. This confirms thatthis type of experience is rather reserved for a certain class. The other bigreason is simply that people are too busy to participate. This does not givemuch space to disadvantaged classes to participate in the process.To conclude, we can say that participatory democracycan be a good alternative to current policies and it may try to restore faithto a part of the population that has been neglecting this milieu for a verylong time. However, we must be realistic about the impact that this may have.
Indeed, in this type of consultation, it is often question of validatingdecisions that have been already taken or that have little importance.Participatory democracy produces only modest changes in power relations and inthe distribution of resources.Moreover, beyond a theoretical offer of participation,it is more than essential to propose concrete and real offers of participationto the population in order to motivates them to take effectively part indebates. This is the only way to measure the real interest for this type ofprograms.It is also important to remember that this offer onlyseems to appeal to a part of the population already initiated to this kind ofpractices or to politics in a more general way.
The results also show thesignificant interest of those who are not convinced by this kind of practices.The people who are ready to take part in this kind of participative debatewould be precisely those who have turned their backs on classical politicalparties and are tired of these political groups. (Stealth group). So finally,it would be interesting to simplify this kind of initiative and to educate thepopulation on these deliberative mechanisms so that participatory democracy canreaches a wider audience.